New Israeli TV Series Inspired by Mossad Caper in Dubai

'Kfulim,' which tells he stories of Israelis whose identities have been used in an assassination, will be produced in America as 'False Flag.'

Ruta Kupfer
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Mossad operatives who allegedly assassinated Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010, dressed in tennis garb.
Mossad operatives who allegedly assassinated Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010, dressed in tennis garb.Credit: Courtesy Ch. 2
Ruta Kupfer

The best current TV offerings were on display at the latest “Series Mania” festival, held for the sixth time in Paris last month. The Public Prize at the festival went to two series: The lauded HBO series “Olive Kitteridge” and a new Israeli series “Kfulim,” which will be aired here only in October.

The series’ creator Maria Feldman didn’t even know that it was included in the competition. She received a voting card when she entered the auditorium in which the series was screened, but put it aside and never used it.

Feldman created “Kfulim” together with screenplay writer Amit Cohen (one of the writers of the “Gordin Cell” thriller series.) The series opens with an episode based on events that are well-known in Israeli. It tells of five ordinary Israeli citizens – a chemist (Ishai Golan,) a kindergarten teacher (Ania Bukstein,) a bride on her wedding day (Maggie Azarzar,) an expat Israeli (Orna Salinger) and a young man returning from a trip to India (Angel Bonanni) – who discover that the Mossad apparently used their passports in an operation in which senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was assassinated.

In the series, the photos in the passports are those of these innocent civilians, not of the Mossad agents, as was the case in real life. But perhaps these innocent people are not as innocent as first appears? Already in the pilot episode it seems that something is afoot.

The first episode of ‘Kfulim’ premiered a month before the Paris screening at the Berlin Biennale, which, for the first time, screened new TV drama series from around the world, in addition to movies. The European Film Festival did likewise. “Kfulim,” made by Tender Productions (Feldman’s company,) was chosen as the series that would represent Israel.

Keshet media group, which operates Israel TV’s Channel 2, will broadcast it towards the end of the year and it has already been sold to Fox studios in the United States, which will produce their own version inder the name “False Flag.” The purchae was based on the screenplay only and it will be produced as a complete series, not just a pilot.

Amit Cohen, 40, Feldman’s writing partner, worked for 10 years as an Arab affairs correspondent and analyst at Maariv daily newspaper, becoming well acquainted with the Mabhouh affair. The two started working together thanks to Ron Leshem, who worked with Cohen on the “Gordin Cell,” an Israeli spy series that was also purchased by an American studio and produced in an American version.

Feldman, 38, relates that the idea for the series actually came to her before the news of the Mossad escapade broke. It happened a week before the airing of “Hatufim” (“Abductees,”) Gideon Raff’s Israeli series that was the basis for the American series “Homeland” and became an international hit.

“Before the first frame of “Hatufim” even aired, there was a tremendous buzz around the series,” recalls Feldman. “I tried to understand the source of people’s fascination. My husband Assaf and I were on our way to pick up the kids from his parents when he, a high-tech person who is very analytical, started analyzing the reasons for the great interest it aroused.

“He suggested two reasons – Israeli obsession with anything related to security and the fact that this could happen to anyone. Everyone serves as a soldier at one time or another and the backdrop was the kidnaping of Gilad Shalit by Hamas. For a year after our conversation, I thought of the incident in Dubai, which served as an inspiration for the series, although it was not the first one. The first thing that interested me was trying to understand what would attract an Israeli viewer.”

It turns out that not only Israelis are interested – Fox studios has purchased the rights to your series.

“That’s true – they bought it when there were three or four written scripts, but those that have changed a lot in the meantime. I think that what captivated them was the plot. The series won’t necessarily be shown on Fox. They’ll produce it and then try to sell it to one of the cable channels.”

She says that she and Cohen will not be involved in writing the American version, but adds that “we make comments and they listen.”

An earlier series written by Cohen, known as “Allegiance” in America, was withdrawn after only five episodes were aired.

Do Israeli writers – with all their desire to appeal to local viewers – direct their series towards the international market?

“We realized that this series had international appeal,” he admitted. “But even when we considered the attraction it held for overseas viewers we didn’t think that the series would be sold as is. We took care to ensure that characters in the Israeli version would be identifiable to local viewers. We wanted to tell a very Israeli story. Our opening stance was ‘what would happen to us if,’ and from there we moved away from reality towards a dramatic plot.”

What lessons did you learn from “Gordin Cell” that you’ll apply to this series?

“I’m not sure that one can apply one series to another. My main lesson is that in re-processing a story one has to move as far away as possible from the source, making it your own story. We’ll be involved up to a point. The Americans will bring their own writers. All the rest depends on timing and luck. We continue developing things that happen behind the scenes.”

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